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Defense can't rest

Posted by Tom Wilcox November 27, 2008 05:55 AM

The onus was on the defensive line.

What was thought to be the strongest aspect of New England’s defense entering the
season was embarrassed by Miami Sept. 21.

The Dolphins had come into Foxborough talking trash and backed up every word while unveiling their wildcat package and running all over the Patriots in a 38-13 thrashing.

The Patriots were not about to let that happen again.

“It was a pretty tough game to come down into somebody else’s home and get a win like this,” said defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. “We knew it was going to be a tough ballgame, we were ready for it, and we prepared well. My hat goes off to them, but at the same time I think that we wanted it more [Sunday] because of the last outcome.”

The pass defense may have left a little something to be desired during the Patriots’ 48-28 win in Sunday’s rematch, but the Pats limited the Dolphins to just 62 rushing yards and only 25 yards on eight wildcat plays.

“We did what we wanted to do,” said Wilfork. “Defensively, we stopped the run and stopped their wildcat formation. I think for the most part we did a really good job on defense. We still had a couple of problems, but overall I think it was a pretty good effort.”

The flip side was a little more discouraging — the Patriots’ pass defense continues to be a concern. Miami scored 28 points, went 4-for-4 in the red zone, and converted 50 percent of its third-down opportunities, while Chad Pennington threw for a career-high 341 yards and three scores.

“We would certainly like to play better defensively. We had trouble in the red area,” said Bill Belichick. “When [the Dolphins] got the ball down there we weren’t able to make a couple of stops and hold them to a lot less points than they ended up getting. … Defensively, we were just trying to hang in there.”

The win also kept the Patriots alive for their sixth straight AFC East crown. New England improved to 3-2 in the division and is one game behind first-place New York (8-3) with five games remaining. The Patriots are tied at 7-4 with Baltimore and Indianapolis for the two wild-card spots, with both teams owning the tiebreaker over the Patriots.

“We have to have the rest of the games that we play,” said Wilfork.

Tom who?
Last season’s historic offensive output was achieved mainly because of the prolific passing attack led by Tom Brady’s NFL-record 50 touchdown passes. The past two games, New England has been putting up numbers even more impressive than the 2007 squad’s by mixing in a balanced rush offense as well.

“Whatever is working is what you want to keep going at to just win the game,” said Kevin Faulk, who had 53 yards rushing and 52 yards receiving.

The Patriots had 530 net yards of offense, the second-highest output in team history. Faulk’s 21-yard TD run was the Patriots’ longest scoring rush this season.

They both need protection
Pass defense and pressuring the quarterback have been an ongoing problem, but New England may finally have its chance to generate a pass rush this weekend against the Steelers. Pittsburgh comes into the game having allowed 35 sacks, tied with New England for the fifth most in the NFL.

The Steelers come into Sunday’s game with the No. 1 overall defense (14.5 points per game), No. 1 pass defense (168.8 yards per game) and the No. 1 run defense (66.5 yards per contest).

Extra points
New England improved to 17-1 (.944) following a loss since 2003. Over the last five-plus seasons, the Patriots have lost in two straight weeks just once, Nov. 5 and 12, 2006, against the Colts and Jets, respectively. … With three touchdowns, Randy Moss moved into third place all-time with 132 TD catches in his career. It was the fifth time in Moss’ career that he had three TDs in a game. … The Patriots’ game at Seattle on Dec. 7 originally scheduled for 8:15 p.m. has been flexed out of the primetime spot. The game will now begin at 4:05 p.m. on CBS.

Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots for OT and can be reached at twilcox@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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